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Not in My Backyard: Planners See New Rules on Sports in Denver’s Parks

18 Nov, 2015

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Residents, Fed up with Congestion, Noise, Traffic Restrictions, Get Officials to Call a Halt to New Runs, Walks, Bicycle Races Being Held on Public Lands

The fun runs, benefit bicycle rides and charity walks that were streaming through the parks of Denver, Colorado, weren’t considered fun, charitable or beneficial to those living near the parks, and those folks complained (loudly) to their local officials. As a result, the town drew a hard line: it put a complete moratorium on new events – with a specific mention of runs, walks and bicycle races.

In other words, sports event planners who were eyeing parks’ trails, fields or other facilities needed to look somewhere else.

The limitations, which actually went into effect in 2014, continued throughout 2015, and officials have noted they will continue in 2016.

The new rules, which according to the Denver Post, amounted to one of the more restrictive city policies in the nation, were rooted in a surge in special events on public property — from roughly 350 in 2012 to 650 by 2014. To call a timeout of sorts, officials ushered in its first one-year partial moratorium to limit where and when new events can close streets and use parks.

Many events, which had long used the park, were allowed to stay. But by early 2015, officials added something that frustrated organizers of even those events – a rule against adding days or components.

During the busy season between April 15 and Sept. 1, new events were fully blocked, with exceptions for August's Denver Days community events. Early in the year and late in the year, the city allowed more leeway for new events.

In 2016, added the Denver Post in a separate article, the rules are expected to continue, with the addition of ‘rest periods’ in which events are disallowed.

The rest periods will be put in place at City, Cheesman, Washington, Civic Center, Confluence, Sloans Lake and Stapleton Central parks, leaving a certain number of weekend rest days scheduled in to keep the park open for resident use and prohibit any permitted events that would come within a block of the park, including races.

"We want to balance the events for those who do and do not want an event," Denver Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Cyndi Karvaski said. "We're just going to start with these to see how it works and look at it throughout the year."

Events that have been held in Denver for the past two years will be considered priority events for its site and date for 2016 as part of the new plan.

A full schedule of rest days for all parks is expected to be announced soon.

"It will help us with turf management and the overall maintenance of parks," said Grace Lopez Ramirez, spokeswoman for the city's Office of Special Events.

The pilot project was presented to both the Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation — an alliance of neighborhood groups — and the Denver Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, but was enacted without public notice. Ramirez noted that the decision was reached quickly because groups can apply to hold an event starting in November. She added that the plan was decided upon based on feedback they've been receiving from neighborhood groups during the past year.

Municipal parks are sought after by event planners for a variety of reasons. They are often available at an affordable cost, have a variety of amenities and are centrally located; as a result, it is easy to attract attention to events held there. In addition, organizers say their events help neighborhood businesses, such as restaurants and shops, who benefit from those who park and walk to events.

Those advantages, however, often come at the expense of homeowners near parks, whose problems with the events include crowds, noise, traffic and, in cases where parks lack designated facilities, parking difficulties. In addition, families and others who buy homes in neighborhoods that border parks say they often find themselves unable to take advantage of the facilities on weekends because areas are cordoned off to accommodate events.

"We've got to ask ourselves: What are our streets for? What are our parks for? What level of noise is acceptable?" said Larry Ambrose, president of Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation, an alliance of neighborhood groups. "We don't want to sound like curmudgeons. On the other hand, there has to be a discussion of what is the appropriate use and the appropriate number of special events."

The Post noted that organizers of new sports events, realizing that the parks were not an option, have been investigating sites in the suburbs.

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